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Rolling Out the Barrel on Barrel Sizes

Rolling Out the Barrel on Barrel Sizes
The barrel was an invention of the Gauls, who were conveniently surrounded by prolific oak forests. The technology was later adopted by the Romans and in consequence almost everyone else. It is probably unsurprising that most sizes have French names, whilst the English used the same sort of systems and 'borrowed' the French names (Barrel, Butt, Cask and Pipe all have French origins). Unfortunately capacities were not always consistent, which was and still is confusing.

As these barrel measures existed long before the invention of the Litre there is undoubtedly a sense of French revolutionary 'sorting out' to ensure compliance with the metric system. Consequently we have listed French barrel sizes in both Litres and Imperial measurements, whilst UK sizes, many still familiar to those in the pub trade, remain with their Imperial measures. In their day barrels were at least as important for trade as the modern pallet and so were available in a wide range of sizes – indeed such a wide range that that some have since changed from a wooden vessel to one in a different material. It is however fairly certain that the widespread use of the barrel for transport led to the discovery of the benefits of the barrel for ageing wine. An indication of this widespread use even as recently as the last century is seen in the newspaper photograph of the Quai des Chartrons in Bordeaux (right) which contrasts with the picture below it of the modern barrel ageing cellar.

Yet even for the wine and beer trades only a limited number of the sizes below remain familiar:

Le Galopin (0.23 litres or roughly eight fluid ounces)

La Chopine (0.46 litres or a bit more than threequarters of a pint)

La Pinte (0.93 litres or a bit more than a pint and a half -confusing isn't it?)

Le Pot (1.83 litres or a bit more than three pints)

Le Setier (7.43 litres or roughly one and a half gallons or thirteen pints)

Le Broc (8 litres or roughly one and a half gallons or fourteen pints)

Pin (4.5 gallons)

Le Petit Fût (50 litres or 11 gallons)

Firkin (9 gallons)

Kilderkin (18 gallons)

Le Demi-muid (150 Litres or 30 gallons)

La Demi-pièce (110 litres or 24 gallons)

La Filette (134 litres or 29 gallons)

Barrel (36 gallons)

Le Bussard (200 litres or 44 gallons)

La Pièce (220 litres or 48 gallons )

La Barrique Bordelaise (225 litres or 50 gallons)

Le Muid (268 Litres or 59 gallons), usually translated as a Hogshead in English
(see below)

Hogshead (34 gallons in imperial but generally larger under French terms up to 300 Litres or 66 gallons)

Le Fût (is what Burgundians call a Barrique though they reckon it is 228 litres - that's still about 50 gallons)

Puncheon (400 Litres or 88 gallons)

La Pipe (400 Litres or 88 gallons - usually reckoned equivalent to half a tun/tonneau or two hogsheads or sometimes four barrels)

Butt (108 gallons when used for ale yet curiously 126 gallons when used for wine)

Le Tonneau or Tun (originally a weight of 2000 pounds and used to indicate a ships capacity - hence tons. 256 gallons, 1100 litres or two butts)

La Tonne (1000 Litres or 220 gallons)

Le Foudre (More than 11,500 Litres)

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